Comics, Work

A segment on today’s “Brian Lehrer Show” about shopdropping (covertly placing one’s own merchandise on display in a store) reminded me of my own misadventures in this arena.

It was 1997 and I had just moved to San Francisco, to the Mission District. man_size  and I were still doing Keyhole, and I soon began frequenting a local shop called Al’s Comics. (I think it’s in a new location now.) Al’s was a cool store: old-style in the sense that it was a sole-proprietorship, but funky in its selection and fairly supportive of indy comics. However, seeing that they didn’t carry Keyhole, I screwed up my courage and approached Al. I don’t know if he was in a bad mood that day, didn’t want to deal with ordering the book from the distributor catalog, or what, but he turned me down cold. That really bummed me out!

So I decided that the only thing to do was to go into Al’s store with a discrete selection of Keyholes (I think we had done four issues at that point) and rack them in with the other indies. Sure, this was giving the comics away for free, but I was convinced that all Keyhole needed was exposure — our little two-man anthology of autobio travel stories, super-psychedelic romance, true stories of the business world, and quirky vignettes deserved a place alongside Sandman and the X-Men (and certainly Hate and Eightball). Once the book was in place, I was convinced that demand for more would force Al into ordering Keyhole via the traditional route.

Doing the deed, however, was one of the most nerve-wracking experiences of my adult life. Ironically, in order to give away my book for free, I had to channel all the skills of my prepubescent shoplifting days: the nonchalant entrance, the pretend perusal of the new comics rack, the eyeing of the store employees to make sure I wasn’t being watched. And then the moment of truth, when I whipped out the Keyholes and stuck them in with the other alt-comix. Whew! The flop-sweat was practically flying off me. Mission accomplished, I bought a random comic to further throw off suspicion (more free money for Al), and quick-marched out of there. Back home, I was quite proud of my little black-ops maneuver.

That is, until a few days later, when I went back to Al’s for my weekly comics. The man himself stopped me at the door. “Hey, Josh. We found a bunch of your books in the comic rack. Did you leave those there?” I was totally busted! Thankfully, though, instead of really being mad, Al was charmed by the whole thing. He ended up keeping the Keyholes and I think he even paid me for them, at a generous 60-40 split.

Shopdroppers of the world unite! Who says un-crime doesn’t pay?

This Time I DID Leave My Heart in San Francisco!


Sari & I couldn’t get out of town fast enough when we left San Francisco in September of 1999. It was the height of the high-tech bubble, and the whole town seemed obsessed with stock options. We lived in a dark, wall-to-wall carpeted railroad-flat on a sleazy, crack-ridden back alley. Our pleurisy-ridden upstairs neighbor woke us up every morning with vomiting sounds from the airshaft. We had endured two years of El Nino weather (one stretch of 55 days featured 50 days of rain) We missed our own (East) coast and were looking forward to heading back home to friends and family. I didn’t expect to think much about SF after we were gone.

That was mostly true for a long time, but in the last year or so, I found myself reminiscing a bit, mostly about the food and my beloved baseball team, the San Francisco Giants. So when I considered going to APE this year to promote A Few Perfect Hours, I convinced Sari to come along for a mini-vacation. I also saw the Giants would be in town, and I vowed to see a game. I’ve already talked about APE, but I want to recap the good times we had on our return to the place I had spent two previous two-year stays, in the late 70s and late 90s. People always say that cities like Frisco and the Big Apple are better places to visit than live there, and I wanted to see if that was true. Plus, as New Yorkers, Sari & I love walking, and San Francisco is a great walking city.

2005 A.P.E. Report

Review, Travel
Jeff Mason at the Alternative Comics booth

I headed out to APE this year to promote A Few Perfect Hours, and also to touch base with San Francisco, which Sari and I had left behind almost six years ago. Last time I attended APE it was still in San Jose. Nowadays, it’s held at the Concourse Center South of Market, in what seems like an old airplane hanger.

While the venue is a huge improvement over the old location, the show seemed a bit … lacking. Whether it was the beautiful weather outside, or the fact that the Giants were playing two home day games that same weekend, the show was pretty dead. I felt bad for my erstwhile publisher indymag cuz it’s hard to imagine he recouped anything close to table & shipping costs. Personally, I sold fewer than ten copies of my book, plus assorted random copies of The Vagabonds and Titans of Finance. And I was probably the top seller, after local boys Graham Annable and the Hickee gang.

It was great talking to readers and pals of pals, etc., as well as reconnecting with folks like Ribs Weissman, Justin Hall, Brett Warnock, and Eli Bishop, but I admit to some disappointment. Thank god Sari and I made a vacation of it and stayed an extra three days around the con to soak in the sights and take in a Giants game!

Also making appearances at the Alternative table were Lauren Weinstein, Graham Annable, Jim Campbell, Joe White, Razmig Mavlian, Joel Orff, Tatiana Gill, Bishakh Som, Andrice Arp, and Joan Reilly. Bishakh’s new Xeric-winning book Angel had a nice little buzz about it, but again, not too much in the way of sales. I didn’t do much walking around as I was helping indymag run the table, but I did get a chance to see Lauren Weinstein’s multimedia slideshow, which is always a hoot. She makes it a full theatrical experience, and y’all should check it out when she performs with Bob Sikoryak’s “Carousel” series. I also said hi to Seth, who was a special guest of the Con, and gave him a copy of Hours, which he seemed pleased to receive. Other highlights were scoring copies of Max Estes’s new book Hello Again from Top Shelf, Justin Hall’s True Travel Tales #4 and his mini Tsunami!, trading with Jason Shiga for a copy of Fleep, ditto with alibi_shop for An Inside Job #1, and getting Bishakh’s pre-Xeric mini, Angel, and Chris Juricich’s Tokyo Days. I also traded with Lauren McCubbin for an issue of Kitchen Sink, and I used the down time at the table to laugh my way through Graham Annable’s Stickleback and the new Hickee anthology.

My impression was that it wasn’t only Alternative that was hurting for business; my informal poll of other creators — and just looking around the convention floor — confirmed the low-density crowds. Top sellers seemed to be cute self-made artists books, cute T-shirts, and cute posters & paraphernalia. Seems that that the savvy Frisco crowds already had their new graphic novels/comics and were looking for unique and funky art objects. Can’t blame them — if you can get your new book at a fine local comic store like Comics Experience or Comic Relief, why wait ’til the con comes to town?